How Much Exercise Do Older Adults Need: Essential Exercise Recommendations for Older Adults

Older Adult Man Exercising

In my line of work as a physical therapist specializing in exercises for older adults to help individuals over 40 stay active and independent, I often come across stories that highlight the importance of maintaining our physical health. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with a 62-year-old woman who sought my help due to persistent shoulder pain. Her experience underscores the significance of regular exercise as we age and approach retirement. Let’s delve into her story and explore why exercise is not just important, but absolutely vital for our well-being.

The Story of Shoulder Aches:

The woman started to tell me about a low-grade ache in her shoulders that had bothered her for two years. She attempted stretches to alleviate the discomfort, but the pain persisted, particularly at night. It was the kind of ache that didn’t stop her daily activities but kept reminding her of its presence. The pain peaked during a night out with an evening of dancing, leaving her shoulders sore for 3 months before starting to get better. This is when she realized her shoulder pain wasn’t going to “just go away” on it’s own.  She was going to need to do something different if she wanted to get lasting relief.

Discovering the Solution:

During our evaluation, we found that she possessed good shoulder mobility. However, her sedentary work routine and lack of consistent exercise had left her shoulder muscles significantly weak. The key to her improvement became clear: strengthening her shoulders. This revelation led her to ask a common question, “How much exercise should I be doing?”

CDC’s Exercise Guidelines: How Much Exercise Do Older Adults Need

To answer the frequently asked question about exercise, I often turn to the CDC’s guidelines. According to their recommendations, a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week is essential. This could translate to a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week. However, this is where many people’s exercise journey unfortunately ends.  And with good reason.  The idea of creating a safe and productive exercise program can feel overwhelming.  What exercises do I do?  Am I doing them correctly?  If they have any medical conditions or history of back or joint pain there are additional concerns to be aware of.  Then you add that into an environment with people everywhere that seem to know what they’re doing and it’s a recipe for an uncomfortable and unproductive gym visit.  So many people will give up before they even get started.  That was the case with my patients.  “There are so many machines and exercises, how do I know what ones to do, how many, and know they won’t hurt my shoulder?  I don’t want to make things worse.” she told me. 

Beyond the Basics: Resistance and Balance Training:

My patient thought that because she walking regularly with some neighborhood friends she was getting her exercise in.  She was only partly correct.  What excites me about these guidelines is their emphasis on not just cardiovascular exercise, but also resistance and balance training. It’s recommended to engage in resistance training for various muscle groups at least two days a week, including legs, hips, core, shoulders, arms, and neck. Moreover, incorporating balance activities into each exercise session contributes to overall stability and well-rounded fitness.

The Value of Lifelong Exercise:

Exercise is a critical component of our lives, gaining even more importance as we age. As retirement looms on the horizon, our physical health takes center stage in determining our capabilities and limitations. The ability to fully enjoy once-in-a-lifetime trips, navigate stairs, and carry luggage becomes an attainable reality for those who prioritize their physical well-being. The stories and photos sent by our clients after their trips are a testament to the benefits of an active lifestyle.


The story of the woman’s journey to address her shoulder pain paints a broader picture of the significance of exercise in our lives. As we age, exercise becomes a non-negotiable aspect of maintaining our independence, mobility, and quality of life. Whether it’s embarking on exciting trips or simply enjoying everyday activities, an active lifestyle enables us to live life to the fullest. So, let’s embrace the wisdom of the CDC’s recommendations and commit to regular exercise that encompasses both cardiovascular and strength-building activities. Remember, the journey to a joyful and pain-free retirement begins with the steps we take today.

Nick Hunter, PT, DPT

You Might Also Like...